eastern healArmadillos

Confirming that the animals could pass the disease to people required sophisticated

In the past, people with leprosy were confined to leper colonies. Today, it is treatable with a combination of three antibiotics, said Dr. James Krahenbuhl, director of the National Hansens Disease Program. About 3,600 people in the U.S. have the disease, he added, and they arent expected to die from it.

Leprosy is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae, a cousin of the microbe that causes

Baton Rouge and lead author of a detailing the discovery in the New England Journal of Medicine.

This genotype appears to be unique and highly distinctive, the team wrote. It has not been recorded anywhere else in the world.

It doesnt mean people need to run away from armadillos the way they do a rattlesnake, but people need to be careful, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of

Knowing that people can get leprosy from armadillos also might help doctors diagnose the disease more quickly.

Scientists had already determined that leprosy originated in eastern Africa or the Near East, followed human migrations to Europe and, in the last 500 years, moved into west Africa and the Americas.

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One analysis, known as SNP typing, examines single changes in the string of chemical letters that make up

for real, l a times, i just saw this on dave letterman, monday night, also the armadillos, were from africa,

skin lesions; severe cases can cause nerve damage or disfigurement in the limbs.

genetic analysis. It also depended on a wealth of data accumulated over the last decade on similarities and differences among the genes of M. leprae bacteria collected around the world.

It had long been believed that the disease was passed only from human to human. The new finding may explain the origin of the malady for those in the U.S. who dont know where they picked it up.

DNA. The team found seven different SNP patterns in their samples, but one &8212; called 3I &8212; was abundant, turning up in all of the armadillos and in 26 of the 29 patients with no history of foreign residence.

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Until now, scientists believed that leprosy was passed only from human to human. Every year, about 100 to 150 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with the malady, which is also known as Hansens disease. Though many have traveled to countries where the disease is relatively common, as many as a third dont know where they picked it up.


This is good, strong genetic evidence, said Varalakshmi D. Vissa, an associate professor of microbiology, immunology and pathology at Colorado State University, who uses genetic tools to study leprosy. She was not involved in this research.

Vissa noted that while the discovery wouldnt have significance for areas of the world where leprosy is a serious health problem, such as India or China &8212; where there are no armadillos &8212; it is significant for fighting leprosy in the U.S.

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The scientists concluded that the data strongly implicated armadillos as a source of human infection.

eastern healArmadillos,Aside from humans, armadillos are the only other natural hosts of leprosy in the world. In some parts of the South, more than 20% of armadillos have the infection. / )

Now, Truman said, were able to provide a link.

What?! This has been common knowledge for decades. My grandparents in Texas had a friend who contracted leprosy. His doctor asked the guys wife if he ate armadillos. Every chance he gets, she said.

Truman and co-workers had wondered for some time whether the small mammal might be transmitting leprosy. For years scientists had known that other than humans, armadillos are the only known natural hosts for M. leprae in the world. The animals get sick from M. leprae infections just like people do, and eventually die from kidney and liver damage. But unlike humans, they are more susceptible to catching the bug: In some parts of the South, more than 20% of armadillos have the infection.

Over the years, M. leprae has proven hard to study, its migration around the globe hard to plot, for a variety of reasons. The bacterium cant be grown in a lab dish. Leprosy has a years-long inceastern health pathologyubation period and propagates slowly. It is hard to contract &8212; only 5% of humans are susceptible, and even they usually need to have close and repeated contact with M. leprae to develop an infection.

I know people with similar anecdotes. I used to have an animal encyclopedia that mentioned the leprosy vector. Honest: Just last week I was talking with a co-worker about how armadillos transmit leprosy to humans. So how is this a new discovery? Is it just because its been more definitively proven than before?

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Most of those cases are in Texas and Louisiana, where leprosy-infected armadillos live too.

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Theyre cute. Theyre often roadkill. Some gourmands say theyre tasty, whether baked or barbecued.

Building on that earlier work, Truman and his team collected samples from 50 patients with leprosy and 33 wild armadillos in the U.S., then used two types of analysis to look at sites in the M. leprae genome that are known to vary between the mammals.

Now Louisiana researchers have learned something else about nine-banded armadillos.

This is a wimp of an organism, Truman said.

Truman added that it might help persuade people living near armadillos &8212; their range extends from Texas to the Carolinas &8212; to avoid contact with the animals. That means refraining from touching, playing with and &8212; yes &8212; eating the critters, which are feted at armadillo festivals, cheered on at armadillo races and chased down during armadillo hunts.

A preponderance of evidence shows that people get leprosy from these animals, said Richard W. Truman, director of microbiology at the National Hansens Disease Program in

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The scientists used a second method, known as VNTR analysis, to further classify their M. leprae samples. This technique, which looks for places in the DNA where the order of chemical letters carries small repeats, also revealed great similarity between the armadillos and the patients. Putting the two analyses together, the scientists reported that 28 of the animals and 25 of the patients who had lived near armadillos shared a genotype called 3I-2-v1.

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